Whooping Cough (Pertussis): Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

Whooping cough is a type of cough that is very contagious and even life threatening, especially in infants. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2008 global vaccination against pertussis prevented around 687,000 deaths. Find out more to get information about the causes and prevention below.

What Is Whooping Cough?

Pertussis or whooping cough is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis. This bacterial infection that develops in the nose, mouth and throat causes coughing.

Whooping cough is characterized by a cough that begins with a deep breath through the mouth. This cough can take place continuously, for four to eight weeks so it is called a hundred day cough.

This type of cough is a very contagious and life-threatening disease, especially in infants. Therefore, pertussis vaccine is needed to prevent this disease.

If the cough is not treated immediately, it is likely to cause more serious health problems. In some cases, the patient’s ribs suffer injuries from a very hard cough. For more severe cases, coughing can result in respiratory failure leading to death, especially in infants.

Causes of Whooping Cough

Bordetella pertussis bacteria that spreads through the air is one of the causes of whooping cough. These bacteria enter and then attack the walls of the airways, such as the nose, mouth and throat which then release toxins. The spread of this disease will take place three weeks after the cough begins.

Toxins released by bacteria will cause swelling of the respiratory tract. Swollen airways can make patients have to breathe strongly through the mouth because of difficulty breathing.

Bacteria that enter the lining of the airways will develop and produce mucus. When mucus builds up, the body tries to expel it through persistent coughing.

Risk Factors

Whooping cough can affect people of all ages, including:

1. Infants and Young Children

Infants under the age of six months have a higher risk of complications, such as pneumonia, convulsions, and brain damage.

2. Teenagers and the Elderly

Both tend to be less serious in these cases, but cause discomfort and interfere with daily activities.

3. People Who Have Whooping Cough Before

A person is not immune to whooping cough if he has experienced it, although it tends to be less severe the second time.

4. Vaccinated People Whooping Cough Since Children

Protection from whooping cough vaccine tends to disappear after a few years.

You can get this type of cough if you have close contact with an infected person. A person with this type of cough can be transmitted from about six days after being infected (when only having cold-like symptoms) to three weeks after experiencing a cough.

Symptoms of Whooping Cough

Generally, symptoms will appear between 7 to 21 days after Bordetella pertussis bacteria enter the respiratory tract. The development of whooping cough symptoms there are three stages, namely:

1. First Stage (Early Symptom Period)

This stage is characterized by the appearance of mild symptoms, such as runny and stuffy nose, sneezing, watery eyes, sore throat, mild cough, to fever. This stage can last up to two weeks, and at this stage the patient is at risk of transmitting cough to people around him.

2. Second Stage (Paroxysmal Period)

This stage is marked by easing all the symptoms of the flu, but the cough actually gets worse and out of control. It is at this stage that there is a persistent cough that starts with a deep breath through the mouth. When the cough subsides, sufferers may experience vomiting accompanied by fatigue, this generally occurs in infants and children. This stage can take two to four weeks or more.

3. Third Stage (Healing Period)

The sufferer’s body condition began to improve. However, the symptoms of whooping cough can still be present or even harder. The recovery phase can last up to two months or more, depending on the treatment.

Things that need attention, a cough accompanied by a long breath (whooping) in infants is usually accompanied by stopping breathing. From a number of cases found, children who have pertussis do not get DPT immunization (diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus). Whooping cough in infants and children with fairly severe conditions can cause damage to the lungs. Therefore, immediately take it to the hospital to get the right treatment.

When to see a doctor?

If the whooping cough is prolonged and the condition worsens marked by vomiting, colds that never heal, difficulty breathing, deep breathing with whooping voice, consult a doctor immediately to get the right treatment.

Complications of Whooping Cough

Not only disrupt the respiratory system, whooping cough can also cause complications, including:

1. Seizures

This can happen because whooping cough can disrupt the airway so that the brain lacks oxygen and ends in seizures.

2. Pneumonia in the Lungs

Given pertussis is a disease of the airways, then 10% of sufferers are able to experience pneumonia. To ensure this, the diagnosis can be done by chest X-ray examination to see the condition of the lungs.

3. Intrathecal Pressure on the Body

The increased pressure when whooping cough increases the pressure inside the abdominal cavity so that some organs can come out of the wrapping bag, such as a hernia. Hernias can disappear on their own if the condition is not severe. If this condition has persisted even though the cough has subsided, then the hernia can be treated with surgery.


During the initial stages, misdiagnoses often occur, because the signs and symptoms are similar to those found in other respiratory diseases, such as bronchitis, flu, and the common cold.

Doctors can usually diagnose whooping cough by asking questions about symptoms and listening to cough.

Here are some tests to diagnose whooping cough:

1. Taking mucous from the throat or nose

The test is done by taking a swab or suction sample from the nasopharynx, the area between the nose and throat. Samples are then sent to a laboratory to check for the presence of Bordetella pertussis bacteria.

2. Blood Test

Blood samples are taken and sent to a laboratory to check the number of white blood cells, because white blood cells can fight infection. If the amount is high, the possibility of infection or inflammation.

3. Chest X-ray

This test uses an X-ray to check for inflammation or fluid in the lungs, which can occur when pneumonia worsens coughing and other respiratory infections.

Whooping Cough Treatment

Whooping cough in adolescents and the elderly can usually be treated with antibiotics according to a doctor’s prescription. Antibiotics are the choice for treatment is prophylactic antibiotics. In addition, whooping cough medicines that can be used are erythromycin (must be consumed for 10 days) or macrolide antibiotics.

Keep in mind, whooping cough medicines using antibiotics do not shorten the period of illness but shorten the infectious period (the period of transmission). The use of antibiotics will shorten the infectious period which was 3 weeks to 5 days. Antibiotics are not given to diseases that have lasted more than 3 weeks because the infectious period has passed.

While whooping cough in infants, it usually requires treatment because it is more dangerous for the baby’s age. If treatment cannot be oral or oral, intravenous infusion is the choice. Usually the child will be isolated to prevent the spread of infection.

Meanwhile, if the condition is classified as severe, the doctor will carry out the following treatments:

  • Corticosteroids. This medication is prescribed if the child has severe symptoms. Medication is given together with antibiotics. Corticosteroids are powerful hormones (steroids) that are very effective at reducing inflammation in the airways, making it easier for children to breathe.
  • Oxygen. A breathing apparatus is given through a lid if breathing assistance is needed. Irrigation bulb syringes can be used to suck up mucus that has accumulated in the airways.

Tips for Caring for Whooping Cough at Home

Here’s how to deal with whooping cough at home:

  • Much rest. A cool, quiet and dark room can help the body relax and rest better.
  • Eat in small portions. To avoid vomiting after coughing, eat small amounts of food, more often than in large portions.
  • Keep the air clean. Make sure the house is free of irritants that can trigger coughing, such as cigarette smoke, dust and smoke from a fireplace.
  • Prevent disease transmission. Cover your mouth if you cough and wash your hands often. If you need to be around other people, wear a mask.

Whooping Cough Prevention

Prevention for whooping cough from transmission can be done in the following ways:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze.
  • Use a mask when near lots of people.
  • Discard used tissue immediately.
  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water.

Prevention can also be done with the DPT vaccine. However, this vaccine does not last a lifetime but only lasts a few periods, so vaccination needs to be given several times. Children need to be vaccinated at ages 2, 4, 6.15 to 18 months and ages 4-6 years.

The pertussis vaccine is very safe, but there are some side effects that may occur after the injection is done, including pain, reddening of the skin, and swelling on the injection site. In addition, the possibility of children will also become fussy or fever.

Pregnant women also need to get pertussis vaccination, because it can help protect babies with whooping cough in the early weeks of birth. Usually vaccination will be recommended to all pregnant women at around 28-38 weeks of gestation.


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